It’s only been a couple of weeks since this one story was all anyone was talking about. Of course, a lot of things have happened since then. In this 24-hour news cycle we live in, breaking news sometimes lasts less than 24 hours in our consciousness, replaced by another story as the topic of the moment.
But not for everyone.
What happened in Orlando, of course, and all the pain and horror and hatred and pride it brought, won’t go away for quite a while.
The European economy has changed — a story we may talk about and decipher for years. Two presumptive candidates claimed but do not yet have their nominations, the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, the USA gave a good run in soccer’s Euro cup, fires in Southern California claimed life and land and houses, LeBron and the Cavaliers brought Cleveland their first championship in decades.
Finding Dora came out. So did a high school football coach. A police officer charged in the death of a man who died in his police car was found not guilty. The WNBA season began, woman athletes, equal athletes, performing as beautifully and skillfully as men.
All these things have happened in the past couple of weeks. All since the Stanford rapist began serving his tragically ridiculous 6-month jail sentence. County jail, not state prison. With ‘good behavior’ and prison attrition rules, he’ll serve about three months.
Maybe you’ve forgotten about it. His victim hasn’t.
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Many years ago, I was trusted with the privilege of interviewing several women who were rape victims, privately, individually, and confidentially. Some were only a few months removed from their attack, some a few years. I was researching a story on the long-term effects of sexual assault on its victims.
It was harder to report that story than stories I had written on murders, because despite the horror and tragedy of murder stories, at least the suffering for those victims was over. At some point, homicide victims stop suffering. That is not usually the case for rape victims.
For most of them, the suffering started the minute they were violated — often by someone they knew — and has not stopped. And likely never will.
But Brock Allen Turner, the Stanford rapist, will be out before the end of summer — assuming that he continues his good behavior. Why would we think otherwise?
You know the story. Brock Allen Turner, a freshman swimmer with Olympic hopes, went to a party. He later would say he had been “shattered by the party culture and risk taking behavior” during his four months at Stanford. His reaction that night was to take an obviously very drunk 20-year-old woman outside, and sexually assault her.
Some stories will never go away. Not when it’s your story.
For Turner, it will. He will do less time in jail than he did at Stanford.
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Most of the women I interviewed admitted to still being devastated, haunted, and scared — daily. A couple said they were “over it,” or had put it behind them. Gentle questions usually revealed otherwise. You never get over being sexually assaulted, of having choice and dignity forever taken from you.
Most women I’ve spoken to who have never been raped believe that it will never happen to them. All of the women I spoke to who were raped had believed that as well.
Not counting those brave women, I personally know at least three women who’ve been sexually assaulted. Statistically, I probably know more, and so do you. Depending on what report you read, anywhere between 20 percent or as high as 80 percent of women — that’s anywhere between 1 of 5 to 4 out of 5 women — have been the victim of some kind of sexual assault: unwanted groping, forced assault, or penetration.
Do you know five women? Do the math. It could be a friend, or a co-worker, or a classmate who has never told you. Because, why would they?
Why would they want to bring that up, again? “Hi, I’m Mary, the new girl in HR. I went to the University of Arizona, I grew up in New Jersey — oh, and I was date raped. So where do you guys go for lunch?”
You might hear the Jersey accent, and guess that, You might see a U of A t-shirt or bumper sticker. You’ll never see the rape.
She’ll never un-see it.
Maybe you get to know the new girl, and become friends — but wonder why she doesn’t want to go out drinking on Friday with the girls.
Maybe you’re attracted to her, and even become romantically involved. Maybe if you’re intimate with her, but wonder about her night sweats, or the resistance to touching, or the constant locking of doors and windows; and the fear of elevators or dark hallways.
Maybe nobody gets to know her, because it’s only been a year, or two or three. And she’s not ready.
She is a victim. Forever.
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Brock Turner’s victim wrote a scathing letter, and read it to him in court. “You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me, and that’s why we’re here today,” it began.
“Your damage was concrete; stripped of titles, degrees, enrollment. My damage was internal, unseen. I carry it with me.
“… in public news, I learned that my ass and vagina were completely exposed outside, my breasts had been groped, fingers jabbed inside me along with pine needles and debris,” it continues. “My bare skin and head had been rubbing against the ground behind a dumpster, while an erect freshman was humping my naked unconscious body.”
It is an amazing letter. It is lengthy, it is detailed, it is graphic. It is horrific. It will shake you, as it should.
You should find it online, and read the whole thing. This is her statement.
But don’t read it in the voice of a (thankfully) unnamed 20-year-old woman. When you read it, for a few horrific moments, let the voice in your head be someone you know: a co-worker, a classmate … your sister … or your girlfriend, or your wife … or your mother.
You probably won’t be able to finish it.
Part of the reason the sentence was short was that the girl had too many alcoholic beverages that evening, and by the time Turner had steered her to a spot behind a dumpster, she was unconscious. Therefore, he was able to assault her without force. Which somehow makes it less of an assault — at least for now. The Santa Clara District Attorney has proposed a law to eliminate that difference.
Two men — heroes — were riding their bikes across campus, saw a couple on the ground, and “saw the male’s hips thrust several times on top of the female.” They noticed she was unresponsive, and knew something was wrong. They called the police. They chased Turner down and tackled him when he tried to run.
Later, when giving his statement to police, one of the heroes began crying — more than once — still shaken by the abuse he had stumbled upon. The police report states: “He had to stop and take several deep breaths before being able to resume giving me his statement.”
The woman, meanwhile, was taken to a hospital. The police report states that “it was not until … an advocate … handed (her) a rape form did she realize something had actually happened to her.”
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Despite the circumstances of this case, and the ridiculousness of the sentence, the story got worse. We learned after the news of the sentence came out that Brock Turner had tried to portray himself as a victim, saying that he had never partied before, that the pressure and alcohol and drug culture of Stanford got to him. Which made him a victim.
The thing is, he is a victim. A victim of horrific parenting.
His father Dan Turner, wrote a letter to the judge asking for leniency. He said Brock should not have to pay “… a steep price … for 20 minutes of action,” because of the effect a long jail sentence might have on his son.
With that kind of logic … sorry, I can’t even finish my own sentence.
Of course, neither will Brock.
The judge, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Michael Aaron Persky, was himself a star athlete at Stanford — captain of the lacrosse team. When he imposed the sentence, he said a long prison term would have a “severe impact” on Turner.
It gets worse. Evidence has since come out that Brock Turner not only lied about his experience with drugs and alcohol — he’d been partying since high school. Police later said he may have taken pictures during the assault and sent them to friends.
When the details of Dan Turner’s letter were released, and Persky’s Stanford ties and “severe impact” statement came out, there was a massive viral reaction. More than 100,000 people signed an online petition asking for his removal.
In spite of the recall petition, which grew to a million signatures, a review board claimed that Persky followed the rules and recommendations for sexual assault not involving force, by a first time offender. There will be no removal of the Judge.
“We believe that he made the wrong decision, that he should have sentenced him to prison,” Assistant District Attorney James Gibbons Shapiro said. “We don’t believe we have a basis to appeal or seek a writ in this case, because his decision was authorized by law, and made by applying the correct standards.”
The week after the story broke about the sentence, after the recall petition started, Persky was re-elected. He was running unopposed.
Since then, jurors have refused to serve on his cases, and he was removed from presiding over a sexual assault case.
A juror from Turner’s case wrote an anonymous letter to a newspaper, calling the sentence “ridiculously lenient.”
“After the guilty verdict I expected that this case would serve as a very strong deterrent to on-campus assaults but with the ridiculously lenient sentence that Brock Turner received, I am afraid that it makes a mockery of the whole trial and the ability of the justice system to protect victims of assault and rape,” he wrote. “Clearly there are few to no consequences for a rapist even if they are caught in the act of assaulting a defenseless, unconscious person.”
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Turner, who has been expelled from Stanford, and banned for life by the U.S. swim team, is planning an appeal on his conviction.
He will likely be out before his appeal is heard. He has spoken of establishing a program for high school and college students to “speak out against the college campus drinking culture and the sexual promiscuity that goes along with it.”
He said he wants “to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life …”
Presumably that’s when he gets out of county jail — in eight weeks or so.
His victim responded in her letter. “Ruin a life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me.”
“You are the cause, I am the effect.”
She ended with this message: “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice — until today.
“To girls everywhere, I am with you.”
Mike Brennan has been a Pulitzer Prize-nominated newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, an investigative journalist, a nationally touring stand-up comedian, a joke writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a morning radio host, a professional auctioneer for numerous charities, an editor, and a film and TV script consultant. He is currently working on a romantic comedy screenplay, and a humorous book on being a father, called The Tooth Fairy Doesn’t Pay for Yellow Teeth. He has lived in the Valley for 19 years, and has two teenage sons. Contact the author.